The Monster of Gratitude


As he sat at the table in front of me, I could see the heavy monster of gratitude sitting on his shoulders, squishing his breath out and leaving him speechless. It is easy to deny the fact that gratitude is all that is left in a relationship.  Gratitude is a ‘big’ feeling. It tricks you into believing that there is still hope to change something.  But there isn’t any hope. There is just a heavy monster of gratitude that needs to be shaken off.  This furry creature, however, should never be forgotten.  Being thankful to the ones that care about us is still essential.  Nevertheless, we cannot be dragging monsters of gratitude around because this way we will never get anywhere past the arms reach of the one who placed that monster on our shoulders.


Self Portrait


“Can I paint your portrait, Madame?” – shouts a stray artist on a busy street

“No. thank you” – I say

“It is a mistake, Madame. I have been painting for N-years and ladies chase me, begging to draw their portraits”

“Then ask one of those ladies to pose for you.”

“Don’t you want to be remembered forever and live through my paintings?” – he looks surprised

“I don’t want to ‘live through your paintings’. I want to be known for what I have done myself.” –I say

“What if you will not do anything memorable?”

“That will be my problem then. Besides, it is better to be totally forgotten then to live through some paintings by a stray artist.”

“What if I will become rich and famous? Then you will regret your choice” –he is desperate now

“It will not change anything. You don’t know anything about me, and I don’t want a portrait that only depicts my body.  You don’t see me the way I really am.” – I say

“Don’t you want to be able to boast to your friends that I drew your portrait?”

“I don’t like boasting about anything, especially if it is not MY achievement.”

“You will regret it” – he is angry now

“If the thought of me regretting it makes you feel better, I cannot stop you from thinking this way.”

Work day of a mathematician

 “What does a usual work day of a mathematician look like?” (grade 8 student)

“Unlike writers and novelists, mathematicians do not even publish their work too often. What do they do all day?” (grade 9 student)

“What do professors do when they are not teaching undergraduate courses?” (grade 11 student)

“How do researchers manage their time when they do not have strict deadlines to follow?” (grade 11 student)

“How do co-authors work together when a lengthy research project needs to be completed?” (grade 9 student)

These are some of the questions questions that I often hear from high school students and even from junior undergraduates.  Most students do not observe mathematicians at work too often, so their questions are perfectly valid.  Every student knows what a shoe maker, a chef or a painter does because they see the direct products of these people’s work.  The situation is different with mathematician because often the outcomes of mathematician’s work cannot be immediately observed. Thinking about problems and experimenting with various solutions could take days, weeks or even months! Many attempts to solve a problem could fail.  Extreme persistence is needed to keep going forward and to avoid quitting. So, really, how do mathematicians keep themselves on track every day? How do they stay productive and motivated?  The answer is different for every mathematician. For example, here are some strategies for balancing academic work and hobbies that professor Andrei Kolmogorov and his co-author professor Pavel Alexandrov practiced:

First, they chose a pleasant setting to work in.  Both professors adored nature and often spent 3 to 4 days of the week outside Moscow in a cottage near a small river. Second, professors placed great value on physical activities to keep their minds fresh.  Their day usually started at 7am with various sports-related activities.  Both preferred taking walks and hikes every day after lunch (2pm) and short walks before bed time (10pm). Third, Kolmogorov and Alexandrov dedicated lengthy unbroken time periods to their research (usually from breakfast till lunch and from 3pm till dinnertime).  Fourth, both researchers did not neglect their shared hobby – music, and dedicated some time to listening and discussing various records every day. Fifth, professors aimed to get about 10 hours of sleep every day.  That often included short naps during the day.  Of course, when their research was going especially well, they altered their schedule and often spent entire days discussing the solutions to the posed problems.

In summary, in order to stay academically productive and motivated, try following these five simple suggestions:
1)      Find comfortable setting to work in
2)      Find common interests that you share with your co-author and dedicate time to pursue these interests
3)      Exercise regularly and get plenty of fresh air
4)      Get enough sleep!
5)      Organize your day in a way that will allow for lengthy unbroken work periods
6)      Be flexible in your planning and don’t hesitate to change your routine!
What do you think of these tips? Would you dare to try living several days by this demanding schedule?

Note: most of the information about professor Kolmogorov’s work habits was taken from the interview published in the “Quantum” (Квант) magazine in 1983.

The original version in Russian can be found here

The image is taken from


Abandoned tandem bike on a sad pathway

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There is a pathway in my city that has many memories tied to it.  Usually this little road makes me sad, but if taking this road is unavoidable, I try to turn on some music, that is also tied to some memories and try to make the best out of that walk.  It was a sad grey day when I needed to go to an art store located right in the middle of this street.  The tattooed wall was behind me and I was just steps away from my destination when I saw this abandoned tandem bike chained to a pole. It was disfigured and its rotting body looked sick and helpless.  What kind of story is behind this bike? Maybe a hipster couple decided to move to India and abandoned it. Maybe they broke up and do not wish to ride together anymore.  What if one of them died of cancer? drug overdose? got into a car accident? Or maybe the bike was broken and they bought a new one.

In any case, the bike is still there. If you have seen it – let me know.